Nearly every Tuesday, I have “contemplative time” for my classes. Do they actually reach contemplation? Probably not, but I like to provide intentional time for silence and prayer. It is ten minutes where the only thing that is required of them is to be still. In a world overflowing with noise, arguments, ideas, and busyness, I try to offer them a brief respite from the long list of things they must do.
To help direct their prayer, I display a Scripture passage, a quote from a saint, or an excerpt from a spiritual read for the students to use as a starting point. A few weeks ago, near All Saints’ Day, I had them focus on Hebrews 12:1-2 for their time of prayer.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
I had fifty minutes that day to reflect on these verses. Different portions stood out to me at various points in the day. Yet by the afternoon, one phrase continued to stir my heart. So much so that I wrote it out on a note card and affixed it to my desk organizer so I could continue to ponder it in the days to come.
About five years ago, I prayed that the Lord would help me finding a parking spot. And He did.
It was at a bar for a Theology on Tap event and tired, introverted me was trying to muster up the energy to attend a talk when I really wanted to fall into bed for nine hours of sleep. As I circled the parking lot, I told the Lord that if He wanted me to go to the event, then I needed to find a parking spot.
Weaving my way through the full lot, I saw a man talking on his phone at the apartment building in front of me. He waved and pointed to a spot nearby. I hadn’t parked there because it was for a business, but upon closer inspection, I realized the business was closed and the spot was fair game. I laughed, pulled into the spot, and got out of my car. The man waved and smiled at me. Wondering if he was someone I knew or was perhaps at the same event, I slowly turned and saw that the apartment building was completely separated from the bar I was going to enter.
A random guy pointing out a parking spot at a bar was a concrete example of God’s love for me. Walking into the bar, I was convinced the Lord loved me and cared for me. It was humorous, but it was an encounter with God’s providence of something unnecessary yet greatly desired. The Lord provided for such a small need so promptly. An occasion that wasn’t really that spectacular–looking for a spot in a crowded parking lot–remains embedded in my memory because of how God moved in my heart.
In actuality, the Lord was fulfilling my deeper desire for good community by providing a spot that allowed me to go into the bar so I could listen to a talk and meet up with friends and acquaintances. That evening, I ended up chatting for quite some time with someone who would become one of my dearest friends. Yet in order for this deeper desire to be fulfilled, the Lord had to satisfy the initial desire of finding a parking spot. Continue reading “The Parking Spot God Gave Me”→
The culture seems to indicate that I should feel a bit like an oppressed victim. Partly because I am a woman and even more so because I am a young, Catholic woman. The “male-dominated hierarchy” that imposes a radical ban on my sex from becoming a cleric is meant to be railed against. And yet I do not imagine myself to be oppressed or a victim. Instead, I feel genuinely free.
Recently, I started reading Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves and I’ve found it to be quite enjoyable. The stories are from women who embrace the fullness of the teachings the Church has to offer, finding within the precepts a path to freedom and joy. In the news and social media, many take it on themselves to speak for Catholic women and how we must feel. Breaking Through makes the bold claim that Catholic women do not need anyone to speak for them; rather, Catholic women have the ability and intellect to speak for themselves. Instead of writing us off for actually embracing the Church’s teachings, others are encouraged to listen to the personal experiences women have had as they have grappled with and eventually embraced the wisdom of the Church. Continue reading “A Law of Freedom, Not Oppression”→
In the movie Sweet Home Alabama, there is one line that has always stood out to me. The main characters Jake and Melanie are talking about their past and present, the ways life has changed from when they were high school sweethearts to their current situation of estranged spouses. Melanie expresses her confusion about loving her life in New York and yet returning home to find that her hometown fits, too. Jake then says, “You can have roots and wings, Mel.”
So often my own heart is caught in that same clashing of different longings. I want to fly away and yet I want to be home, grounded and steady. One moment I’m desiring to be a missionary in a far-away land and the next I want to stay in my cozy bedroom, reading and considering life. One day, I’m wanting to buy a home and make it my own oasis. The next day, I am wanting to be detached of all earthly possessions, living simply and being prepared to fly off to wherever whenever.
Roots and wings–the desire to be secure and the desire to be free–mark the desires of the human heart. We want to be home, but not confined. We want to be free to wander and yet not be lost. All of it, flying or remaining, hinges on the longing we have for happiness and contentment.
Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.
I am not quite like St. Paul yet, able to find contentment in whatever situation I find myself in. Perhaps my students would even be surprised with the restlessness that is within my heart. I am slow to act, yes, making changes at a glacial speed. And yet…change is what I often long for and deeply desire. What is the solution? Continue reading “Roots and Wings”→
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia were good friends.
In a world where rational discussion and respectful dissent is viewed as semi-impossible, these two Supreme Court justices demonstrated how it could work. They didn’t simply clash over minute details: one could say they had almost fundamentally different views of the law and that translated into different worldviews.
My friendship with Judge, later Justice, Scalia was sometimes regarded as puzzling, because we followed distinctly different approaches to the interpretation of legal texts. But in our years together on the D.C. Circuit, there was nothing strange about our fondness for each other.
Despite differences in opinion, they were able to have a genuine appreciation for each other. In several sources, Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks of Antonin Scalia’s wit, grand presence, and shopping skills. I don’t believe she is merely coming up with things to speak about for the sake of maintaining some public reputation of a friendship. It has all the hallmarks of genuine sincerity–as evidenced by Ginsburg speaking at a memorial for Scalia following his death.
The friendship they share is significant to me because I, too, share a similarly surprising friendship. Of my friends from elementary and high school, there are only a few with whom I keep up. (Keep up is used rather loosely because I’m not really known for excellent communication where distance is concerned.) Melissa was a close friend in high school and yet, in the years since, I think the friendship has deepened, though we speak infrequently. Our friendship was born of mutual interests of theater, classes, and a desire to learn. As the two ladies in calculus, we forged a deeper bond from confusion and frustration with the class. Many of my memories from high school involve Melissa, whether it be laughter we shared, scenes she caused, or stories we told. Continue reading “Unlikely Friendships”→
I mentally planned for the day. I supplied myself with some resources, I opened pertinent tabs on my computer, and I waited for the moment. Unanticipated, I felt a sick pit grow in my stomach and my heart ached a little at the prospect of what I was to do.
So I started with gauging their prior knowledge, as some teachers are apt to do.
“Have you heard about the sexual abuse scandal in Pennsylvania?” Depending on the class and the age, a few or most heads would nod the affirmative.
“How about Archbishop McCarrick? The papal nuncio Archbishop Vigano?” Fewer heads nodded with each question, a few gesturing with their hands to show that it sounded vaguely familiar.
Then, to the best of my ability, I outlined for them situations that had been unfolding for the last several weeks. I emphasized the lack of clarity and focused on what our bishop is asking from us as a response. In a textbook we use for class, it says, “One of the few things in life that cannot possibly do harm in the end is the honest pursuit of the truth.” And while that doesn’t mean that the truth won’t be painful to uncover, I encouraged them to pray for the truth to be revealed, regardless of the personal cost involved.
As I spoke to them, I felt a certainty in the Church settle into my heart and I felt like an older sister or a mother as I gently explained to them things that pained me. While the circumstances are awful, the Church will endure and new saints will rise up to combat the evils of the present age.
Each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.
Most of the classes listened closely with sad eyes and asked a few questions to understand the situation more. One class reacted with more anger and bitterness. It wasn’t entirely unsurprising because it is a situation where anger is justified. Yet for young people who are initially uncertain about the Church, the blatant hypocrisy of the scandal is too much to take in. I saw the scandal through their eyes and I wanted to cry. My small heart ached and I felt the weight of these sins in a manner that I hadn’t yet permitted myself. Continue reading “In the Wake of Scandal, Choose Sanctity”→
This, I thought, is not the cross I wanted. Can’t I have something different?
I’ve heard that if everyone could throw their particular struggles and crosses of life into a common pile, we would go through and pick again the one we already have in our lives. That when we would compare our crosses to what other people are struggling with, we would realize that we didn’t have it too bad the first time. Or maybe that we would recognize that the cross we have, perhaps oddly and strangely, is one customized for our lives.
It might be true, if I knew the secret things you struggled with, that I would recognize that my cross is far more manageable than I initially thought. Yet at this particular time, I’m simply wishing I could choose something different. I survey the struggle and it doesn’t quite seem fair, this thing with which I’m saddled. Or things, to be more precise.
When I speak of these struggles, I don’t always mean failures or weaknesses. Sometimes, the cross in our lives is simply a matter of circumstance. It isn’t anything we can choose to alter, rather it is something we choose to embrace, or at least endure. The crosses of circumstance might be some of the most difficult ones to bear because we find ourselves unable to fix the recognizable problem. Continue reading “My Little Cross: An Avenue for God”→
Recently, I came into possession of Alanna Boudreau’s “Champion” CD. And I’ve been listening to it on repeat pretty much since then. As with all CDs, there are some songs I like more than others and certain lines in songs that move me more than others.
Her song “Controlled Burn” is one of the songs on repeat a bit more than others and I want to highlight a couple of the lines that stand out to me.
“And I ache, I ache, I ache / When I see all the nothing / That could have been something / That should have been you”
This line is perhaps the most perfect summary of these months of summer and maybe even the past year. From the silent retreat near the beginning of summer to my sister’s home visit to being on the brink of school beginning, I have felt an ache for the nothingness that surrounds me. Sometimes I am a bit fearful about the judgment that will come at the end of my life and how I will need to answer for all of my time. The “nothing” that I did should have been replaced by the Lord, by perfectly following His will in all things. Someday I will regret that wasted time even more than I do now.
I’m not saying that every moment needs to be filled to the brim with productivity. Americans, however, aren’t particularly good at true leisure. We binge watch TV shows, waste time on our phones, and fastidiously document our lives on social media. Obviously, these are all generalizations, but our inability to truly embrace leisure is evident. So when I say I waste time, I don’t mean I neglected to work, work, work. Rather, I was isolated too much, preferring to spend time on my own rather than setting up numerous coffee dates or road trips or nights out with friends. As an introvert, it is an easy hole to fall into and an even easier one to justify. Continue reading “Controlled Burn: A Song of Longing”→
Whether it is cleaning a room, getting into an exercise routine, or starting a new school year, I’ve discovered that it gets worse before it gets better.
Somehow, I’ve managed to turn a blind eye to the state of my bedroom for the entire summer. I knew it was a mess and yet it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I saw it with the eyes of reality. As I began to move some boxes around and sort through a pile of clothes, I realized that it was getting worse. My attempts to clean were making my room more unlivable. Yet I reminded myself that it needed to get worse so it could get better. It still isn’t great, but my room is looking better, bit by bit.
The same was true a couple of years ago when I picked up running for a while. The first run was tiring as I realized how out of shape I was. Yet the next couple runs were worse as my sore muscles protested being used again so soon. Eventually, though, it did get better. In fact, I ran a 5-mile race and finally understood why runners say they need a few miles to warm up. Having never been a “real” runner, I always thought I should conserve my energy, but as I finished the race, I could feel that I was running far better than the first couple miles. Continue reading “It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better”→
Ben Rector came out with a song called “Old Friends” and it became a brief topic of conversation with a friend this summer. The song is catchy and provokes an immediate nostalgia within me. However, as I spoke with this friend, we talked about how we don’t have “old friends” and, as Ben Rector spends over four minutes articulating, you can’t make them now.
Granted, I have friends that I went to elementary, middle, and high school with, spending about twelve years in the same classrooms in my small rural public school in South Dakota. A few of them I even catch up with on occasion, but none of them know me through and through. I grew up out of town and my parents were careful not to play the chauffeur for my siblings and me. So I would see them at school, after school activities, and church if they were Catholic.
But we weren’t riding our bikes around town together in the summer or spending every waking minute swimming at the pool. For me, summers were spent at my parents’ farm, isolated from the rest of the town about five miles away. After school, I rode the bus home, preventing me from meeting someone up town at the popular hangout that served fried appetizers. Even when I did drive, I had a younger sister to provide transportation for and it was also generally assumed that I would head directly home after my extracurricular events concluded.
These aren’t bad things, per se, I just offer them to point to the fact that much of what Ben Rector sings about felt impossible for me to have experienced based on my situation. Most of my youthful memories are filled with my siblings. The past couple weeks were filled with pretty intense and intentional family togetherness time and when it ended, it caused me to feel that wave of nostalgia that reminded me of “Old Friends.”
My two older sisters are in religious life and the older one has an annual home visit for two weeks. As far as religious communities go, that is a generous amount of time yet it also constitutes the bulk of what our relationship looks like for the year. Short occasional phone calls and letters (which were non-existent on my part this year) aren’t the best ways to sustain a vibrant relationship. My other sister is a cloistered nun, meaning that she has answered God’s call to live as a hermit within community, essentially. My family visits her annually on a weekend when my other sister returns from the convent. While it varies year-to-year, this year I was able to have two hours alone with her to visit. As with the other sister, the bulk of my relationship is found in those brief moments.
After we had left the cloistered monastery and my other sister was dropped off at the airport, I felt a nostalgia for the past closeness of my youth. Naturally, as time passes, the family changes through new additions, losses, moves, and the like. When my brother married, his wife became an integral part of the family and my nephews and niece also changed the family dynamic. The vocation my older sisters have to religious life likewise shifts the family dynamic. While I am thankful for their vocations and the joy accompanying them, I still miss what could have been. Continue reading “Nostalgia”→